Tue, Dec 11, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Contrasting conceptions of colonial rule

From massive infrastructure projects to human rights abuses, the legacy of Japan’s 50-year rule of Taiwan remains controversial

By Gerrit van der Wees


The assimilation policy, begun around 1919 (education and Japanization, combined with strict control by police), continued. It was started by the first civilian governor-general, Den Kenjiro, who coined it “Doka” (同化, integration). It considered Taiwan an extension of itself, and involved local governance, a public school system and symbolic representation in the House of Peers (Upper House of the Imperial Diet), which continued until 1937.

Interestingly, during all these years, there was no claim of sovereignty over Taiwan from China’s leaders. Both the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accepted Taiwan as a Japanese colony.

In 1926, KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) even proclaimed that Taiwan should become independent, from Japan of course. A number of years later, CCP leader Mao Tse-tung (毛澤東) also expressed his support for Taiwan independence, in a 1937 interview with American writer Edgar Snow that he recounts in Red Star over China: “…we will extend them (the Koreans) our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies for Taiwan.”

By the early 1930s, things started to change: the relatively liberal Taisho Period (1912-1926) ended as militarists took over in Tokyo: in 1931 Japan moved into Manchukuo. In 1933 it withdrew from the League of Nations and in 1937 the Marco Polo bridge Incident took place, starting the war with China.


These developments had consequences for Taiwan: it became the Southern base, from which Japan planned to move into South-East Asia. There was a major industrial and infrastructure expansion: factories churned out products for Japan’s war effort. The Kominka Movement (皇民化運動) soon followed, a policy to make Taiwanese loyal subjects of the Japanese empire.

This led to a total Japanisation of society, desegregation of the school system by 1941 and participation in the war effort, including military draft: some 200,000 served. The War with China effectively meant a state of war for Taiwan, more than four years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After December 1941, as the war intensified, Taiwan became increasingly the target of American bombing, aimed at those Japanese factories participating in the war effort.

A significant moment for Taiwan occurred in November 1943, when Allied leaders Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek convened in Cairo, Egypt to make plans for a post-war world. In a press release, they declared their intention to hand over Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores to the Republic of China. This intention was reiterated at Potsdam, but was never formally implemented: in September 1945, General McArthur only authorized temporary occupation of Formosa on behalf of the Allied Forces (General Order No. 1).


On Oct. 25 1945 Japanese governor-general Rikichi Ando signed the surrender document with ROC general Chen Yi (陳儀). But this did not constitute a former transfer of sovereignty, which could only be done through a formal international treaty, to be negotiated by all parties involved. This was the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, under which Japan formally ceded sovereignty over Taiwan.

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